“We (would) bring the essence of the museum outdoors,” said Hayes Jackson, the Urban Regional Extension agent for the County Extension Office who helped plan the project. “Many times, you have the Berman Museum where the husband is interested in the guns and the history, but outside of the Berman, we talked about doing the history of roses.”
He and a group of local volunteers have already done landscaping on the grounds around the two museums, but this would be a bona fide botanical garden with walking trails and a variety of gardens, including collections of plants along with displays of vegetation from around the world.
It would provide another educational experience for local students and research opportunities for local agricultural scientists, something the museum is already doing. The museum is doing some experiments with peony cultivars, testing for heat tolerance.
“Botanical gardens bring so much into a community and it’s not just plants,” Jackson said. “It’s a venue. It’s a recreational space. It’s so much more than just a garden.”
The city is looking for some new space to house the community center because the Lenlock center is not easily accessible to younger residents, Anniston City Manager Don Hoyt said.
“Kids can’t get there by bicycle,” he said. “That’s one of the problems with the Lenlock center. So, it would be better if we could locate it in a place where it would be more accessible.”
At this time, there are no concrete plans to move the center, but that is something the city would like to do in the future, he said.
The city owns the museums, as well as the center on the property. Leaving the center empty would not be a good option because the city would still be responsible for maintaining the property and it would not be generating any revenue, Hoyt said.
“The ideal situation would be for the facilities to break even,” Hoyt said. “That’s the ideal. That’s not necessarily the reality. But the closer you can get to a break-even point, the better off the city is, and the botanical garden could contribute to the revenue generation.”
Cheryl Bragg, executive director of the museum complex, said if the museum gets approval, it would take about three years to get the gardens into the ground and open to the public.
“We would certainly like to start very soon,” she said. “What we will do is create a master plan that will be in phases.”
The museum has staff members with the expertise to create the gardens, she said. There is also a core group of volunteers excited about working on the project.
Bragg doesn’t have an estimate of the cost of creating the garden yet, but, if and when it receives approval, the museum plans to use grants and donations to fund the project.
“Because the museums already have an educational and cultural mission, and experienced board and staff, the museum complex seems the most probable group to create and operate a successful botanical garden,” she said.
The museum is not the first request to take over the Lenlock Community Center. A local art group requested the building for a headquarters should the city decide to close the center.
The City Council hasn’t made any decisions about the future of the property.
Bragg said she plans to present her proposal to the council at its April 13 meeting.
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.